Alistair Scott lifts lid on life as European Tour's official starter
It’s just over six years since the legendary Ivor Robson switched off his microphone for the final time as the European Tour’s official starter. The Moffat man is still missed on first tees around the world, but another Scot has become an equally friendly face as he sends players on their way in tournaments.
Alistair Scott, who hails from Inverness but has lived in England for most of his life, worked in sports production for the BBC and spent memorable times in the company of Henry Longhurst, Peter Alliss and Harry Carpenter covering golf.
He did some starting duties for IMG at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Women’s British Open before taking on the role officially for the European Tour – now known as the DP World Tour – completing his sixth full year at the recent season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“I do 20 events per year, though it’s been around 12 or 14 the last couple of years due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Scott, who wears his Rolex green jacket for a number of those events, told Scotland on Sunday.
“I enjoy it. I’m not a carpet slippers and pipe man. I enjoy doing things. My wife can come out with me occasionally and she’s a great golf watcher. We make lots of friendships, getting on well, for instance, with Tommy Fleetwood, and his family.”
Scott may have filled Robson’s shoes, but he’s not trying to be the man who was the tour’s official starter for 41 years and also filled that role at The Open for the same period of time.
“You can’t,” he said. “Ivor was a one-off, there’s no question. I certainly studied him and I watched him. I also know him quite well. As it happened, my first Open on the production side was 1975 and that was his first Open.
“John Shrewsbury, my good friend, was the producer and I was the director and, at the start of every Open, we’d always go on the first tee to see the first game tee off as we thought that was the right thing to do before going on the air at 9am.
“So we got to know Ivor then and the way he had the respect of the players was special. I’m aware of that. I’m not there to chat to them; I’m there to get them off on time, which is the most important thing and the officials now are keen to get everybody round as quickly as they possibly can so there is a timing schedule.
“If they chat to me, I’ll chat back. But some of them just want silence. Some of them are more nervous than others, some are quieter than others. You can tell that straight away.
“I’ve only had one occasion when I had a player late on the tee and I was flapping away like a seagull trying to get him away on time that day, but he picked up a two-shot penalty. Some have been close, including Rory McIlroy at Sun City one year but that was due to him having to fight his way through the crowds.
“Some like to be there early and some like to leave it until the last minute. A couple of the Scots boys can be a wee bit tardy, shall we say, and I have no option but to remind them.”
Scott was a camera operator for the BBC in Glasgow when he worked at his first Open at Muirfield in 1966, when Jack Nicklaus recorded the first of his three victories in the Claret Jug joust.
“Our studio was built above the greenkeeper’s toilets to the left of the first tee at Muirfield,” recalled Scott. “It was Harry Carpenter’s first Open as well and, funnily enough as it turned out, I was the producer for his last Open.
“I also did the 1972 at Muirfield, on that occasion I was behind the second and 16th greens, before going down to London in 1973 as a stage manager then moving on to the production side of things covering all sports.
“I’ve been to over 20 Olympics – 10 Summer and 10 Winter as well as Special and Junior Olympics In fact, I counted up recently that I have directed 47 sports.
“And, though I am not blowing my own trumpet as things have changed because we had six cameras and now they’ve got 16, I doubt if anybody has done more than two or three as golf is now all year round and football, too.”
Scott reckoned the BBC once covered as many as 17 events in one year, but times have certainly changed. “It was a big thing for the BBC back then, it definitely was,” he recalled.
“That has changed sadly, though I could see the BBC weren’t keen on golf as I left. I think it was mostly down to what they had to pay for the rights fees.
“The comms now are so much better than we could do. They have the technicalities now that we never had. To give you an example, at The Open at St Andrews, I think it was 1978, I was an assistant producer and we were on the 18th green covering Jack Nicklaus finishing.
“Simon Owen chipped at the 16th to tie the lead, but there was no way of recording anything in those days. I was tasked with coming up with a system for how we could record other greens to cover ourselves in case that situation happened again.
“If Owen had gone on to win, it would have been very embarrassing, but things have changed so much now.”
Though he still makes the occasional trip to Inverness to meet up with a lifelong friend, Scott, like Bernard Gallacher, Sam Torrance and a number of European Tour staff members with Scottish tongues, is now very much settled in the south of England.
“We live next door to a golf club called Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands in Bedfordshire,” he said. “Alex Hay was at Woburn when we moved out of London and he said, ‘come and join us’.
“We had two young children at the time and it was either jump in the car and play golf or jump over the fence and it was a no-brainer. We have a tradition where we play golf on Christmas morning due to the course being on our doorstep. It’s terrific.”